After video and audio clips surfaced of Donald Trump condoning sexual assault and approving of Howard Stern calling his daughter Ivanka a “piece of ass,” the tide of the Republican Party has finally started to turn away from its presidential nominee. Republican National Committee lawyers are reportedly looking into the options to replace Trump (there are very few). Meanwhile, some are calling the last 24 hours Trump’s “Defection Saturday,” a reference to the GOP’s abandonment of Richard Nixon in the last days of his presidency.
All of this is much too little, and way too late. At the very beginning of his campaign, Trump called Mexicans “rapists.” He followed that up by calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country. He has been revealed to be a chronic liar, a bully, a likely tax dodger, and a misogynist. Some argue that the now infamous “grab them by the pussy” video is different in that it gives Republicans no plausible deniability. But no one could seriously deny that Trump was unfit to be president for a whole host of reasons—any of which could have been reason for Republicans to have dropped their candidate a long time ago.
Now, many Republicans are calling for Trump to step down and be replaced by a party conservative. As Brian Beutler notes in The New Republic, this is a purely anti-democratic fantasy. Not only is it politically implausible, it is uniquely galling—as Beutler puts it, “Republicans still want to scrub Trump from the public imagination, only they want to do it immediately and then be rewarded for it with unmatched political power.” It’s basically like asking for the keys to your father’s car after you totaled your own while driving drunk.
But perhaps even more egregious is the fact that Republicans like Senators John Thune and Kelly Ayotte are depicting Mike Pence as the stalwart, GOP alternative.
The idea that Pence could somehow salvage the party reveals once again how little soul-searching the Republican Party has done over the last year. After all, having run on a Trump ticket, Pence is the most culpable member of a party that has enabled Trump at every turn. As Libby Nelson notes over at Vox, the very act of Pence accepting the VP nomination should disqualify him immediately. There is no way that Pence can, in good faith, separate himself from the awfulness of Donald Trump.
While he may have disavowed a few of Trump’s positions—for example, his most recent statement saying that he “cannot defend” Trump’s lewd remarks—Pence can’t get around the fact that the vice president is a deputy, whose primary characteristic is his allegiance to the presidential candidate. And, as Nelson points out, he chose to be Trump’s deputy in July 2016—long after Trump had already called for a ban on all Muslims, advocated for beating up black protesters at his rallies, and insisted that there should be “some form of punishment” for women who get abortions. Moreover, by adding his more traditional conservative cred to the Trump ticket, Pence did his best to help Trump get elected by shoring up his support with Evangelical voters who may have doubted his (very shaky) religious bona fides.
Mike Pence made his bed when he accepted the vice presidential nomination. The GOP shouldn’t be trying to sleep in it.
Some Republicans have suggested that Pence doesn’t actually agree with anything Trump stands for, and that he joined the ticket to further his own presidential ambitions. From the first time he appeared on the VP short list up to the vice-presidential debate (which was, unbelievably, only five days ago), the phrase “Pence 2020” has hung in the background. As conservative writer Erick Erickson stated after Tuesday’s debate, “What we saw last night in Virginia was a redeeming performance that gives Pence the right to make his case in 2020.”
But even if Pence privately disagreed with everything Trump has been saying the entire campaign, it is just as backwards to nominate a politician who, in order to advance his own career, tossed out all his moral convictions by supporting one of the most dangerous presidential nominees in political history. Mike Pence should not be rewarded for that—not in 2016, and not in 2020. And, for that matter, neither should the Republicans who refused to disavow Trump until the last minute, grinding their teeth for nearly an entire election season—all because they believed it would be the best way to preserve their own political careers.